August 19th, 2008

birds nest

Tuesday, August 19 - Breakfast out, Track and Field, Olympic Green, Water polo, Farewell banquet

Originally published at Andy Does Beijing. You can comment here or there.

Our last Olympic event as a group dragged us out of bed at six in the morning so that we could get breakfast at a restaurant before going to the games. Breakfast out was pretty much the same as breakfast in, except for the scenery. Master Sun scouted out the place for us yesterday, though, and settled on this one after checking out six restaurants in the area. What was breakfast? Boiled eggs, fried dough rings, beef dumplings, etc., and hot drinks in metal mixing bowls again. I guess it’s a Chinese thing.

We finally got inside the Bird’s Nest! It’s a fearsome stadium to walk up to, all sorts of crazy cross-beams and red wall paint. Once you get inside, the effect wears off a bit, except for the lamps. The lamps are energy-saving halogen coils mounted inside a funky bee-hive looking dealie made out of recycled plastics Weird, cool, and probably good for the enviroment, too. As soon as you walk into the stadium proper, though, you get a sense for the sheer magnitude of seating for, y’know, 90,000 people. Yes, that’s ninety thousand. The field itself is 100 meters plus end zones and, around it, a standard track.

Today’s events were all preliminaries for javeline throwing, long jump, and sprints. They started out with javelin and generally warmed up the rest of the crowd. I noticed a few really groovy things about the events and the stadium. The javelin and long-jump points were measured by a laser mounted on a surveyor’s tripod, bounced off a pick one of the referees stuck in the ground by the point to measure. The javelins were returned from the field to the throwing area, not by runners, but remote control cars with javelin mounts. Whaaaaat. Two volunteers had the job of sitting at the edge of the field, driving these RC cars back and forth all morning. SO COOOOOOOL. For the long jump, the sand was smoothed over by a big zamboni-type thing mounted on rails just beyond the long jump sand. (It had pads mounted on top, in case the jumpers ran into it.) The athletics were cool, too, some badass javelin-throwing and sprints. I can’t say I have an appreciation for long jump, but we did have a good view for it.

Those of us with water polo tickets peaced out around 11:30am so that we could wander around the Olympic Green a bit and get to the 2pm game on time. I called up Snowy, since she was working on the Green today (like most days) but didn’t have many responsibilities (because there were few games in that area) and we met up to check out the Chinese cultural story tents. Each tent focussed on a different region in China, about thirty in total. Since I didn’t have much time to wander, we looked at Beijing 北京, Shanghai 上海, and Snowy’s hometown, 西安 (Xi’an)in 沙安息 (?)(sha’anxi). Then, walkabouts over to the water polo stadium!

We thought the water stadium was across town. Turns out it was across the street. I caught an Olympic special line bus over, since the entrance itself was a block or two away, and joined my party after picking up a visor with the Olympic mascot, Nini 尼尼, for band camp. Then, inside for water polo, a game I didn’t care for and then USA vs … somebody! Some Hungarians came in early for their team’s game, so I had a nice chat during the game with a Hungarian woman who’s a high school teacher. She has to teach the first day home from the Games, poor woman, but she lives in Eger, a tourist attraction in western Hungary. Becky may or may not have gone through there on her Eastern Europe tour a few months ago. We traded pins, of course, so I got a lovely Hungarian Olympics pin in exchange for my rinky-dink Delaware pin =D Apparently Hungarians are very intolerant of immigrants and of jobs being outsourced. That’s reasonable, given that their country’s population is less than that of Beijing. Beyond that, though, Renata (was her name — a popular Hungarian and German name) did enjoy the various Chinese restaurants she could find around her area.

USA won, incidentally, about 9 to 6?

Noodles coming, Dumplings going

For our last real day on the trip (since tomorrow is our packing slash shopping day), we had a real farewell banquet, too! The bulk of the group took the tour bus back to the hotel, then to the restaurant; the water polo kids caught cabs straight to. We had an hour or so to kill while we waited for the Americans to catch up with us, since the profs grossly underestimated travel time as usual, so we sat disreputably on the front step of the restaurant. After half an hour, they invited us in to sit on the couch and drink really, really hot tea instead of cleaning up the dust on their stoop with our butts.

The restaurant was pretty fabulous. It was decked out like old-school western China feel, with gnarly trees, river stream fountains, and elephant heads. The waitstaff was also western Chinese and wearing traditional garb. The food, however, was standard Chinese; also, delicious — especially the Yanjing. When we came to the hotel the first night, we were told that noodles were the traditional meal to eat, symbolizing longevity and something else, and dumplings were the food to eat before leaving. True to their word, the professors made sure to order … one container of dumplings per table. Those were tasty, too. Speaking of first-night things, Eric came to dinner too and brought his girlfriend, who’s a cutie! I talked to her for a little bit and she’s also a college student and a volunteer at the games; pretty good English as well.

Dinner included a show: the girls did some belly-dancing and other courtly dances; one guy played a reed between his thumbs (like, a straight-up leaf) like a harmonica; and he came out again later to play a traditional Chinese wind instrument, basically a Chinese bagpipes. He also played it while dancing around like a Russian, velly impressive!

At the end of dinner, the standard banquet formalities went on: thanking our hosts, our tour guides, our bus driver, and our professors with gifts and honorariums; and the floor was opened for everyone to say a nice bit, which a handful of people did. Nate: “You guys are great. That’s all I’ve got.” Linda: “Appreciate being young and getting educated, because that’s what’ll take you places.” Hallelujah! Eric; “I love you guys!”